Thought Leadership on Peace and Conflict

A family sitting in front of their dwelling.

To seek a deeper understanding of both the underlying causes of violent conflict and what works to prevent, manage, and reduce participation in it, Mercy Corps has produced a series of studies in countries where we work. Building off one another, these studies focus on how we can advance our and others’ approaches to reducing violence while supporting long-term peace and development.

Our Studies

  • Research from Somalia, Examining the Links between Youth Economic Opportunity, Civic Engagement, and Conflict (2012), did not find a link between employment status and youth’s attitudes toward violence. Baseline data from an education and civic engagement program showed that youth who were civically engaged were more likely to have engaged in political violence, indicating that motivated youth may see violence as one of their only options to make change. Through impact evaluations of the same program, Critical Choices (2016) and If Youth are Given the Chance (2018) we saw that the combination of education and civic engagement, largely community service, led to a decrease in support for and engagement in political violence.
  • Our study Does Youth Employment Build Stability? (2014) used an impact evaluation of an employment program in Afghanistan designed to promote stability. The evaluation found that employment outcomes did not have any impact on stability outcomes. In other words, youth with a job were no less likely to support the Taliban than jobless youth.
  • Youth and Consequences (2015) built off these findings in important ways. Through qualitative research with current and former members of armed group in Afghanistan, Colombia, and Somalia, we found that “Violence makes people poor, but poverty doesn’t appear to make them violent.” Instead, injustice—and the anger resulting from it—was a primary driver of violence.
  • From Jordan to Jihad (2015) looked at the motivations of foreign fighters and found that the most common justification for joining the war in Syria was to protect Sunni women and children.
  • We explored both what drives youth to join but also resist Boko Haram in Northeast Nigeria in our paper Motivations and Empty Promises (2016), finding that discontent with government and deep inequality contributed to participation in the group. Our follow-up study Gifts and Graft (2016) found that Boko Haram’s financial support increased recruitment and capitalized on frustrations over inadequacies in government economic programs.
  • Our research Investing in Iraq’s Peace (2016) looked at broader dynamics affecting support for armed groups and reinforced the importance of good governance in reducing violent extremism.
  • Further research on the drivers of youth participation in violence, We Hope and We Fight (2017), drew on interviews with youth members of armed groups in Mali. We found that community-level factors were the most influential in youths’ decision-making, with youth joining to protect their communities or address perceived government neglect or injustice.
  • Through a randomized controlled trial (RCT) in Afghanistan, we tested the impact of economic interventions on political violence. Can Economic Interventions Reduce Violence? (2018) found that a combination of vocational training and cash transfers resulted in a large reduction in willingness to engage in pro-armed opposition group actions six to nine months post-intervention. Neither intervention on its own had a long-term effect.
  • Another RCT, Does Peacebuilding Work in the Midst of Conflict? (2019) found that dispute resolution and joint community projects significantly increased contact and trust between farmer and pastoralist communities in Nigeria compared to control sites, even as regional tensions increased. Perceptions of security also increased significantly more in intervention sites.
  • We used an impact evaluation to show that similar interventions had a strong, positive impact on social cohesion between Syrian refugee and host communities in Jordan, as reported in What Works and What's Next for Social Stability in Jordan? (2019).